MANY MIGRANT workers boarding the Shramik Special trains to return to their home states are paying for their tickets. While 31such trains have run so far and more are expected over the next 15 days, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot Sunday demanded the Centre and the Railways bear the expenditure on humanitarian grounds since the workers were already facing economic hardships.
When contacted, Railway Board Chairman VK Yadav said it was a conscious call not to run these trains free of cost so that only those who intend to travel were transported. “Problem is once you make services free, everyone is eligible to travel. Then who is coming to the stations; who all are travelling would become a problem to track. This service is for stranded migrant workers, students etc only and they are allowed to travel only after thorough screening. These trains are not for general public,” Yadav told The Indian Express. “So we are charging just nominal fare.”
Separately, in a letter to state chief secretaries, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla Sunday sought to clarify that the transport facilitation was only for such “distressed” persons who were stranded after having started from their places of work before the lockdown. “… (it) does not extend to those categories of persons, who are otherwise residing normally at places, other than the native places for purposes of work etc, and who wish to visit their native places in normal course,” it said.
In its guidelines published Saturday, Railways said it would hand over the tickets to the originating states and the state would “collect the ticket fare” and hand them over to Railways.
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Jharkhand, which paid Rs 5.4 lakh to Kota administration for one train to bring students back from Kota, said it was yet to make payment for the 1,200 migrant workers who boarded the first Shramik Special Train from Lingampalli in Telangana to Hatia in Jharkhand. “Initially, there was some confusion whether to pay to the states or the Railways. On May 2, an SOP issued by Ministry is Railways makes it clear. It says the fares have to be collected from the passengers,” said Jharkhand Chief Secretary Sukhdev Singh.
Point 11(c) of the Railways’ SOP on sale of tickets states: “The local State government authority shall handover the tickets to the passengers cleared by them and collect the ticket fare and handover the amount to railways.”
Railway Board Chairman Yadav said states were trying out many models of financing the services. “We see three-four models emerging. In many places, employers of labourers have given them the money to go home; in some places, NGOs have sponsored. There are originating states which are paying, and then there are destination states paying to originating states. The services have just started, so the process will get established slowly,” he said.
Maharashtra CM Thackeray, however, said Sunday, “Migrant labourers are able to return to their homes after many days. Since their financial condition has deteriorated, the Railways should not charge any ticket fare on humanitarian grounds.” When contacted, Anil Parab, Transport Minister, Maharashtra told The Indian Express that ticket fare collected from migrant workers was given to the Railways. “The Central government should take a call on the issue of fares and ask Indian Railway to not charge money for running the Shramik specials. It will simplify the whole process and clear the confusion within the states about who should bear the expense of moving the migrants,” said Parab.
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The Shramik Special trains are allowed to run at two-third capacity and for single runs, which means they are sent back to their originating places empty. Instead of around 1,600, each train has been allowed to carry 1,200. “Obviously there is no question of profit here. In fact, we are serving complimentary food and water. I have instructed that no matter how many bottles of water a person requires, we should give them. We are giving soap, sanitiser etc. We are not running these services to earn any money,” Yadav, Chairman, Railway Board, said.
The Railways is charging non-AC sleeper fare as per distance along with a superfast charge of Rs 30 and a reserved-berth charge of Rs 20 levied on each ticket. Yadav explained that this was defined in the system for train operations.
In the train that left for Puri from Surat on Saturday, each passenger had to pay Rs 710 while those who travelled to Agra Cantonment from Ahmedabad paid Rs 250 per ticket. Surat District Collector Dhaval Patel said Odiya community leaders were contacted and asked to list those who wanted to travel along with their contact detail. “The community also collected the travel fare amount from them and gave us the list. An officer of the rank of Deputy Collector went with the community leader to the railway station and collected the 1,200 tickets and paid the fare amount to the railway authorities,” he said.
At Nashik, 332 migrants put up at shelter homes left for Bhopal on Friday were paid Rs 250 per ticket. Sawant Kochle, who worked as a driver in Mumbai and was returning with his wife and two children said, he just had Rs 500 left, and paid it as fare. Nashik Collector Suraj Mandhare said, “We ensured that the migrants did not face any problems at the shelter home. But by paying fare for their journey back home, they are travelling with dignity.”
In another Shramik Special that left Bhiwandi for Gorakhpur, workers were asked to pay Rs 800 for the fare while the cost of the ticket was Rs 745. One such worker, Laxman Gawd (36) said he had asked his family back in Gorakhpur to send him some money a couple of days back which came in handy to pay for the ticket. “They loaned the money on interest. But now I’m glad that I had asked for it,” he said.
(With inputs from Asad Rehman in Lucknow)
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